Only upholding traditional values

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UNABASHED defenders of the hereditary principle are quite rare these days so it was invigorating to find one declaring, 'We are a family of winners, not losers. I will do like my great ancestors would have done.' Unfortunately it was the Marquess of Blandford on the phone to the Express the day before he was arrested. He also boasted 'I am the new Lord Lucan' which seemed to suggest, for one alarming moment, that he had murdered the nanny but it apparently only meant that he was a swashbuckling hero who had eluded the fuzz. His career as a Lucan wannabe ended the next day when a rather excessive number of fuzz came to collect him. But what did he mean about emulating his great ancestors? Did the victor of Blenheim default on his wife's maintenance. Did Winston Churchill ever do a runner when he got out of taxis? Surely not.

We must never forget that one day Jamie Blandford will be entitled to legislate for us in the House of Lords. Other peers will no doubt fall over themselves to welcome the prodigal son because there is nothing they enjoy more than congratulating themselves on their supposed eclecticism. 'Ho, ho, we are a mixed bunch here,' they tell you, pointing to the lone Communist, the lone Indian, the lone former bus conductor and so on. To hear them tell it, you would think the House of Lords was as representative as any pollster's random sample, whereas when you survey the Chamber you see the usual mob of near-dead white male geriatrics who, thank God, bear no relation to the populace at large. Perhaps, instead of imprisoning the Marquess of Blandford, we could make him do a stint of community service in the House of Lords?

ALAN SUGAR'S claim that Brian Clough 'liked a bung' had me scuttling to the dictionary. I was familiar with bung's use as a verb - 'We'd better bung the dustmen a tenner' - but not as a noun. And indeed the Shorter Oxford and Chambers do not include it, though the more up-to-date Collins (2nd edition, 1986) has it as a noun meaning a bribe, as does the complete OED, while Partridge's Dictionary of Slang defines it more precisely as 'a bribe, especially to the police' since c. 1930. But what is its origin? The OED mentions a 1567 Thieves Cant use of bung to mean purse and thence perhaps pickpocket. But I wonder if it has something to do with the prison and naval use of tobacco as currency, so that giving someone a bung for his pipe was a form of bribe? Anyway it is a vivid and excellent word, and much to be preferred to the middle-class 'sweetener' which is altogether too saccharine a euphemism for the dirty business of bribery. The BBC, in its reporting of the case, introduced another euphemism. Apparently unable to bring itself to say 'backhander', still less 'bung', it kept talking about 'backhand payments' which sounded as archaic and prissy as saying public house for pub. I hope bung catches on.

LUCKILY I have never met Trevor Eve and am never likely to. According to Michael Owen of the London Evening Standard he is famous for a television series called Shoestring and for being married to 'actress Sharon Maughan, whose Gold Blend coffee commercials have given her a celebrity status to rival his own'. If this last encomium were written by anyone other than Michael Owen, I would applaud it as a brilliantly witty putdown but, alas, I am sufficiently familiar with Owen's work to know he probably wrote it straight-faced. Anyway, Eve, whoever he is, this famous actor who jostles for celebrity with his wife the coffee queen, is about to play the Nicol Williamson part in John Osborne's great play, Inadmissible Evidence, at the National.

Osborne, or 'Johnny O' as Trevor Eve calls him, attended two rehearsals but was discouraged from attending more. He was upset to find the actors improvising rather than rehearsing his lines and he might also have been distressed to hear Eve's explanation that 'we thought a woman should direct it because of all the misogyny in the play, which needs properly investigating'.

One shudders to think what subtext lurks behind those words. Anyway, artless Eve then confided to artless Owen about poor old Johnny O: 'It's strange. He's not a happy chappie. There's something about that sort of person, I don't know what it is, but putting you at your ease is not their number one priority.' Fancy] Our greatest living playwright not dropping everything in order to put Mr Shoestring at his ease] I just pray that Eve can act more intelligently than he can talk, and that Osborne's giant play will survive whatever treatment it receives from the National Theatre's pygmies.

AND INCIDENTALLY, while I am thrilled that Muriel Spark has finally received her long overdue Damehood, I hope John Osborne will not have to wait so long for the knighthood he deserves. We ought to cherish our writers much more and earlier than we do: it is stupid to make honour wait upon longevity. Personally, I'd give Osborne a peerage because it would be such fun to have him in the House of Lords, but I suppose that's asking too much.

BRAINTEASER Corner, and it concerns my new hero, Michael Winner. Former Sunday Times editor Ron Hall tells me that years ago, when he was editing Atticus, he commissioned Michael Winner to fill in one week when the regular Atticus was away. Winner asked how many words he should write and Hall told him 'about 1,300'. No, no, said Winner, he needed to know exactly. So Hall did a scrupulous word count and told him 1,280 words. Winner then delivered 1,280 words exactly. However, when the galley came back from the printers Hall was surprised to find it was three inches short. He did his calculations again but could find no fault: the average Atticus was 1,280 words, but Winner's 1,280 came out substantially shorter. Why?

A: The extraordinarily high incidence of the word 'I'.

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